I love books and research, so it made sense to read a lot of books and do a lot of research when we decided to adopt. I thought I was pretty well prepared for meeting our new son. I understood attachment, the effects of living in an orphanage, and what I needed to do to help my son feel a part of his new family.
I knew so much until I actually met my son. There are some things that no amount of reading can prepare you for, and trying to love and attach to a screaming, raging, biting 3-year-old who is scared to death and feels as though he has been kidnapped is one of them.
The books I read before we adopted were helpful, but when I read them again afterward, I saw the information with new eyes and appreciated it in a very different way. There were both things I missed as well as things I found too uncomfortable or scary to really think about when I did my research the first time around. Having lived through a rough transition, I was now ready for the hard stuff, and I saw other information in new light.
Our first son we adopted has been home for nearly nine years, and I have been researching and reading about adoption for over 10. There has been a huge change in adoption literature over the course of these 10 years. There has been more research into the physical brain changes that happen due to trauma and the behavior that results, and therapists and parents are looking at behavior challenges in new ways. Plus, there is a greater openness from parents writing memoirs to share the challenges of adoption.
This is an extremely positive movement. When we first brought home our son and life was anything but easy, reading all the happy-ending adoption stories that filled bookstore shelves did nothing but induce guilt and hopelessness. There were times I felt as though I was the only adoptive parent out there who was struggling. I love seeing the more truthful stories about both the hard and the joyful in adoption.
Some of these books deal more with attachment, others are memoirs, and others, while not aimed particularly at adoptive parents, are helpful when it comes to parenting in general. If you are a pre-adoptive parent reading this, know that this is just the beginning. You’re reading to get a handle on ideas and concepts and to find resources for later. If you have already adopted, I hope this reading list will help direct you to resources you might not have known about. I am only going to discuss books I have actually read and found helpful. If I’ve missed one, add it to the comments so others can look it up.
These books are on my must-have reading list for every adoptive parent:
“Attaching in Adoption” by Deborah D. Gray
While technical, I found this book to be a wonderful starting point to learning about the theory of attachment. Gray gives real scenarios of children in crisis and suggestions to help them.
“Nurturing Adoptions” by Deborah D. Gray
This is the companion to Attaching in Adoption in which Gray focuses more on childhood trauma and its effects.
“God are You Nice or Mean? Trusting God… After the Orphanage” by Debra Delulio Jones
This is the book I wish I had had on my shelf nine years ago when we first brought our son home. Jones is brutally honest about her experiences with her son, and I could identify with nearly everything she wrote. While this book might be terrifying to read as a pre-adoptive parent, it held nothing but hope for me when I read it as the parent of a child from a very hard place. This book is a must-read if you are struggling with a child.
“The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children” by Ross W. Greene
In full disclosure, I would have hated this book and thought it was rubbish if I had read it before I adopted my son, having never parented a truly explosive child. Thankfully, I read it afterwards, and it was a key piece to helping us build our relationship together. While it is not written to adoptive parents specifically, there is much to be gained from reading it. Many of our children have difficulty with frustration and don’t know how to manage the feelings that come with that. Instead of being able to respond in a constructive way, they explode. This book will help you and your child navigate these feelings and behaviors.
“Theraplay: Helping Parents and Children Build Better Relationships through Attachment-Based Play” by Phyllis B. Booth
I discovered this book when I did a Theraplay workshop during my search to help my son. It was at this workshop that I had to come to terms with my role in not attaching my son and laying all the blame on him. I found the book to be particularly helpful for the different exercises for parents and children to do together. I use it as more of a reference book, but I find myself loaning it out fairly frequently.
There are also three general adoption books in my reading list that I would recommend:
“Becoming a Family: Promoting Healthy Attachments with your Adopted Child” by Lark Eschleman
I found this to be a very accessible book on attachment and how to foster it. There is some technical theory, but it is full of concrete ways to build attachment that are easy to understand.
“The Connected Child” by Karyn Purvis, David Cross, and Wendy Lyons
This is a very popular and helpful book that describes the trust-based method for helping children from hard places heal from trauma. We use this method with our children, and it has helped our son heal. That said, will you think poorly of me if I admit that I find this book difficult to really get into? I know others have found it hugely beneficial, but I am on the fence. I find the video presentations by Dr. Purvis to be more helpful. If you haven’t read this book or are new to trust-based parenting, it will be worth your while to pick up. But if it doesn’t click with you, don’t discount what Dr. Purvis has to say, and search out her online videos.
“Forever Mom: What to Expect When You’re Adopting” by Mary Ostyn
Ostyn has done a great job with this new book on the adoption scene. It is easy to read and has up-to-date information on the brain science that is being done in the field of trauma. She also shares her own adoption stories honestly and sets up realistic expectations while also holding out hope for the future. Read a full review here.